Togo: RSF calls for the release of two imprisoned journalists
Journalists Loïc Lawson and Anani Sossou have been held for more than a week in Lomé civil prison following an erroneous publication on social networks. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns this abusive deprivation of liberty and calls on the authorities to release them immediately and to cease the crackdown on journalists.
UPDATE : Journalists Loic Lawson and Anani Sossou were released on bail on 1 December. They are now subject to judicial control and their passports have been confiscated. On 6 December, they apologised on their respective social media to the government minister responsible for the complaint, saying they had “overestimated” the amount of cash they said was stolen from him.
Two Togolese journalists have already been detained for more than a week for a publication on social networks. Loïc Lawson, the publisher of the Flambeau des Démocrates newspaper, and freelance reporter Anani Sossou are charged with “defaming” Kodjo Adedze, the minister of urban planning, housing and land reform, “attacking his honour” and “inciting revolt” in social media posts.
In a post on X (the former Twitter), Lawson reported that 400 million CFA francs (about 600,000 euros) in cash had been stolen from Adedze’s home. In a Facebook post, Sossou repeated this figure and went on to speculate about the origin of this cash. It was the minister, who had reported the theft to the police without saying how much was stolen, who filed a complaint against the two journalists.
Lawson and Sossou were summoned for questioning by the police Research and Investigation Department on 13 November. The same day, they acknowledged in social media posts that the amount of money stolen might have been overestimated. They were placed in pre-trial detention in Lomé prison two days later. No date has so far been set for a hearing.
The detention of these two journalists for the past week in connection with social media posts is arbitrary in every way. Press offences such as defamation should never be punishable by imprisonment. The charge of inciting revolt, in addition to the defamation charge, is out of all proportion. We call on the authorities to release Loïc Lawson and Anani Sossou at once and to stop persecuting media personnel.
No press offence has been punishable by imprisonment under Togo’s press law since 2004, but the press law does not apply to social media, with the result that social media posts by journalists do not enjoy its protection.
Authorities targeting journalists
Togo’s authorities often target critical journalists and media outlets. Ferdinand Ayité, the publisher of the L'Alternative news site, and Isidore Kouwonou, its editor, were forced to flee the country last March after being arrested and subjected to intimidation. They were then sentenced in absentia to three years in prison on charges of “contempt of authority” and “spreading mendacious comments on social media.”
Ayité was reportedly one of the journalists targeted by the Togolese authorities for surveillance by means of the Pegasus spyware. His newspaper was suspended for four months in February 2021 as a result of a government minister’s complaint, and for two months in March 2020 as a result of a complaint by the French ambassador. In 2020, he and his newspaper were also fined 4 million CFA francs (6,000 euros) for reporting that large sums had been embezzled in connection with the importation of petroleum products – a case known as “Petrolgate.”
Carlos Ketohou, the publisher of the Indépendant Express weekly, was illegally detained for five days at the end of December 2020 for reporting that government ministers had stolen “golden spoons” at a reception, and the following month his newspaper was banned from publishing in any form, online or in print.